With few other choices left open, young Wellingborough Redburn signs on the Highlander, a merchant ship leaving New York City for England. Narrator Kirby Heyborne's youthful, easy performance expresses the intrepid Redburn's thoughts with charm and sympathy as he finds out that life at sea isn't what he'd naively expected. Heyborne, who has received numerous AudioFile Earphone Awards, as well as the Odyssey Award, describes Redburn's difficulties on the ship with dismay and resignation, and he intensifies the shock when the boy arrives in Liverpool and witnesses the corruption, desperation, and poverty there. As Redburn returns to New York, listeners will hear his new-found maturity in Heyborne's sober narration.
Drawn from Melville's own adolescent experience aboard a merchant ship, Redburn charts the coming-of-age of Wellingborough Redburn, a young innocent who embarks on a crossing to Liverpool together with a roguish crew. Once in Liverpool, Redburn encounters the squalid conditions of the city and meets Harry Bolton, a bereft and damaged soul, who takes him on a tour of London that includes a scene of rococo decadence unlike anything else in Melvilles fiction. Redburn is not a document; it is a work of art by the unexpected genius of a sailor, Herman Melville.
It must be awful as a writer to dash off a novel for money or tobacco in a couple of weeks and have it praised, but see your earlier serious novel (Mardi) panned, and your later novel (Moby-Dick) under-appreciated until years after your death. That is the genius of a select group of writers -- they are destined to exist in this weird space between art and the public. Perhaps the strong bitter of Melville's art was just too early and too strange for the public, but they WERE ready for his swipes.
If you are into literature of the sea (The Sea Wolf, The Pilot, Captains Courageous, etc.,) or you are just into Melville, you will want to read this. If, however, this is your first Melville, I'd stick with Moby-Dick.
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What did you like best about Redburn? What did you like least?
I liked the hints of the themes Melville would elaborate in Moby Dick. The start was promising, if heavily "based on a true story" and I presume heavily autobiographical. The Famine emigrants in Liverpool and at sea gain some attention, perhaps notable in fiction. But I disliked the "Harry" diversion and the latter part of the story weakened the plot. It reminded me of how Huck Finn also falls apart after a strong start, a few decades later.
If you’ve listened to books by Herman Melville before, how does this one compare?
I have not heard any (yet).
What aspect of Kirby Heyborne’s performance would you have changed?
I liked Kirby Heyborne dramatizing David Mitchell's own "heavily autobiographical" coming-of-age "Black Swan Green." So I purchased this on that strength. But Kirby H. mispronounces hillocks, shillelagh, Lothario, Hecate, indefatigable, and over and over tarpaulin, to name but a few words he surely should have known, or checked. My rating reflects this shortcoming.
Was Redburn worth the listening time?
It unfolds more slowly than any other audiobook I can recall outside of, say, the dense Thomas Sowell treatise on Marxism. Not unpleasant, and I fell asleep (with the timer) many nights as I listened to segments. Melville does put you at sea with him vividly. Despite the clunky plot, this is mostly worthwhile. I assume it's not the highest-ranked among his canon.
Any additional comments?
It's a strain to hear the perorations to Carlo the Italian organ-grinder boy (yes, that's him) as well as the paeans to the "girlish figure" of the narrator's pal and bosum (?) buddy Harry. Their relationship and his backstory are occluded, but scholars now must have devoted feverish scrutiny to what Melville's alluding to. But the novel "goes south" and never returns.